HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY – Enjoy These Vintage Photos

Just wanted to share a couple of motherly – or in these cases grandmotherly – images from my vintage photo collection in honor of Mother’s Day.

I spent my Mother’s Day doing what I enjoy most – antiquing with my family – and I turned up this circa 1880-90 photo at a Pennsylvania flea market earlier today.  This looks like an immigrant grandmother cuddling her young grandchildren.  Note the antique doll – and grandma’s warts!


This hand-tinted photo from the 1930’s shows a proud grandmother with her decidedly uncomfortable grandson.  The facial expressions and body language say it all.  Based on grandma’s spring coat and corsage, this most likely was taken on Easter, but it could have been taken on Mother’s Day as well.  Look carefully and you’ll see grandpop with coffee cup in hand, too.


Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.  Maybe next year I’ll show lovely young mothers with their beautiful babies, but ferreting out photos like these is much more fun.

Posted in 1800's, 1930's, Americana, Carol, Photography | Leave a comment

Telecoma Canned Food Fighters by Takara (Yet More Mealtime Combat)

I don’t know if Happy Meals are as big a deal as they were in the 1980s, when parents were blissfully unaware that all that fast food was putting their children at risk for obesity and type II diabetes. Honestly, though, I was never in it for the food. For me, Happy Meals were all about the toys, and I think I’ve established in my nearly two years writing for this site that I was (and still am) very obsessed with my toys.

It seems as though every Happy Meal toy is a promotional tool used to get children to beg their parents to see the latest computer animated theatrical release or buy them the latest Mattel ™ toys. However, it wasn’t always like this. McDonald’s use to come up with their own ideas all the time so that kids would be sold on their love for Ronald McDonald and his friends at an early age.

The best promotion by far had nothing to do with Ronald and the gang. Instead, it had to do with transforming things, which was an inevitable recipe for success for toys in the 1980s. McDonald’s released Changeables, a series of robots disguised as your favorite McDonald’s meals. Sure, like all Happy Meal toys, they weren’t QUITE as good as their expensive, branded counterparts, but for FREE toys, they were amazing. We hadn’t seen anything quite like them. A hot cakes box and a French fry container transforming into robots?

Courtesy of neogaf.com

Who would have thought that you could have food containers transforming into awesome robots?

The Japanese. That’s who.

Yes, if you grew up in Japan in the mid-1980s, you had us Americans beat by a couple of years when it came to the transforming food objects market. That’s because if you grew up in Japan, you might have owned Telecoma toys!

This amazing artwork let's you know about the eternal food war going on in Japanese supermarkets.

These toys, affectionately known by American collectors as “Canned Food Fighters,” take containers of popular branded foods and meals in Japan and turn them into an army of food fightin’ warriors! Unlike Food Fighters, which definitely took their inspiration from the American military, Telecoma figures were more akin to Kinnikuman or M.U.S.C.L.E., where a wide variety of characters settled their differences in a stadium for mealtime dominance!

What I love about the toys is that they actually use real food products on their labels. When McDonald’s made Changeables, they didn’t have to worry about licensing their own food. With Telecoma, this was more like Computer Warriors using a Pepsi can in their toy line or Monster in my Pocket featuring Tony the Tiger, except on a much grander scale. The Pepsi can is certainly the most recognizable design for us Americans.

While most of what I write about it something that I know quite a bit about and feel the need to get the info out on the Internet, I can’t say that I know a whole lot about Telecoma other than they exist. My collection is rather small, and all of it has come courtesy of a series of Japanese online auctions. I learned about the line through the Little Rubber Guys message board and decided I would see what was out there.

These characters all resemble cans...

...and these are more bowl-based characters.

Two of the sets that I have fall into the “keshi” or little rubber guy category. I’m guessing one boxed set is one faction and the other contains the guys they fight with or something. They are packaged very similarly to most kinkeshi lines of the era. I don’t know if these two boxed sets represent a complete set of figures or not, but it must put me pretty darned close.

The third boxed set I own is a deluxe set of sorts. In addition to containing a handful of the kinkeshi figures, it also contains two of the transforming figures that are very similar to the way McDonald’s constructed its Changeables line.

These figures came in the above boxed set.

There is a whole line of these figures numbering almost as many as the keshi line, and I have seen a transforming shopping cart vehicle, which as you can imagine is amazing. This deluxe set comes with a wrestling ring, which is not quite as amazing as a transforming shopping cart.

Now, some of you might say, “Wait a second, Ben, I’m pretty sure I had these figures as a kid, and I never lived in Japan!” And you know what? You’re absolutely right.

Though I own one of these, this image comes from dinosaurdracula.com!

This is a card that would have been placed in a grocery store vending machine. As you can plainly see, the designs of these characters come right from Telecoma. Several collectors have documented finding these figures in a wide variety of colors, and a few of them have found examples with the stickers still attached, which feature more recognizable American food brands on them. Sadly, I have not stumbled upon any examples of Telecoma knock-offs at any flea markets in the couple of years that I’ve been on the lookout for them, but they are definitely out there.

While Telecoma has a much richer universe than the McDonald’s Changeables, it’s funny to see how East and West developed what is essentially the same idea. Throw in Food Fighters to the mix, and there’s no question that kids will never get tired of playing with their food.


Posted in 1980's, Action Figures, Advertising, Ben, Food, Humor, Kitchen, Toys | 1 Comment

Miniature Slant Front Desk – Salesman Sample or Something Else?


“Antique” is a word that is frequently abused, especially in the past twenty or thirty years. It is often paired with the word “collectibles” and its true meaning frequently overlooked. For something to be truly “antique”, it is supposed to be at least one hundred years old. I would venture to guess that in many antique shops today less than five percent of the merchandise comes anywhere close to that – and that’s being generous.

Finding a true antique, especially something that is rare, unique and – best of all – affordable is, therefore, always a thrill. A case in point is the subject of this article – our miniature slant top desk. Measuring just twelve inches wide by twelve inches tall and about six and one half inches deep, this little guy was entirely hand made by someone with a copious amount of patience and skill. The hours spent making it would have been considerable.

Carol and I found our little treasure in a Pennsylvania antique shop about two and a half years ago. The shop was housed in an old mill filled with very little else but genuine good quality antique furniture. I found the little desk upstairs lying on top of a table. It was in overall good condition but was missing a couple of feet and one of the brass drawer knobs. The dealer, who obviously knew a thing or two about furniture, estimated the little desk to be circa 1860 to 1880. No argument there; I thought about 1870. Carol quickly informed me that this was going to be my birthday present in a couple of months, so it soon disappeared from sight. A great present to be sure but not exactly a surprise.

Amy was able to make two new feet for it using wood from an old picture frame, and it was finished by the time my birthday rolled around. After searching for about a year and a half, I eventually found a replacement brass knob at a flea market. Now our little desk is complete once again.

So why exactly was it made? There is no way of knowing for sure. Most miniature pieces of nineteenth century furniture are assumed to be either salesman’s samples or apprentice pieces made by someone learning the furniture trade. It is certainly possible that it is one or both of those. If it is indeed from that 1860 to 1880 period, I suspect it was displayed in a cabinet maker’s shop in a large city such as New York or Philadelphia and used to show all the latest features available to the prospective customer. All the drawers and doors work and there is some indication of the maker on the bottom of the lower drawers – unfortunately not enough to determine exactly who it is.

Our little desk created quite a sensation when we showed it to some fellow antique collectors recently. It’s not the sort of thing you see very often or ever have the chance to purchase. We’re just glad we were in the right place at the right time.

Shortly after this piece was made, factory-produced furniture at affordable prices would become available to the average American, and local furniture makers would die out. I think this little piece represents the end of their era.

Whatever its origins, it embodies the skill and craftsmanship of a bygone time, and it’s awfully cute, too!

Posted in 1800's, Americana, Hand Made, Jim, Miniatures | 1 Comment

Disney Pin-ups.

As a long time Disney collector, I have learned that there is a ton of junk on the market with Disney characters on it.  At this point it takes a special or rare piece of Disneyana to get me excited.  While I have a lot of nice pieces in my collection and it is hard to pick a favorite, a couple of my favorite Disney pieces happen to not involve Disney characters at all.

As an artist it is always my goal to own original art work from people I admire.  Of course, original art tends to get very expensive.  The two pieces I am showcasing today were relatively inexpensive, probably because they are unsigned, but their provenance is what I liked most.  They are a fascinating snippet of Disney history that a lot of people don’t know about, and kind of go against the family friendly, squeaky clean, Disney image.  This post is a little bit NSFW (Not Safe For Work since we don’t tend to post this kind of stuff on The Collector Gene).  You have been warned.  Don’t blame me if your boss catches you reading this nerdy article (Bet you never thought you would read Disney and NSFW in the same sentence!).

Disney animators worked long hours every day tirelessly animating those classic films of your childhood.  Sometimes those guys needed a break, and what did they do?  They drew pictures for fun.  It’s what working artists do.  They create art for someone else all day, and then in their time off they create art for themselves.  The Disney animators were known to draw caricatures of each other fairly regularly.  They would slip them under each other’s office doors to egg each other on, or comment on the events of a day.  These caricatures are highly sought after by Disney collectors, especially if they come from Disney’s Nine Old Men, his top group of animators from the 30’s- the 60’s.

I do not own one of these caricatures (though I happily would), but what I own is another fun tradition from the studios in the 40’s and 50’s.  Pinup drawings.  We all know the classic pinup girl paintings from the 40’s and 50’s.  Varga girls and Bette Page are well known today.  Well, the young men working at Disney Studios were just as fascinated by these paintings as any other red blooded heterosexual male of the time, but when they just drew them it happened to be with a Disney twist.

This one ain’t too naughty.  Well, on today’s standards it ain’t so bad.

Here’s the NSFW picture.  Again, not too bad on today’s standards but pretty racy for the time.

Okay okay.  Insert cartoon wolf howling and stomping his foot on the floor with his tongue hanging out.  Firstly, you might notice the holes in the edge of the paper.  These lovely ladies were drawn on perforated animation paper.  That’s the paper the guys at Disney had laying around.  These are beautiful quick sketches by a Disney artist who was happy enough with his work to add a little water color as well which makes them that much more beautiful and dynamic.  They have a ton of energy and life to them, where you can almost see their movement as they strike their permanent pose.  Clearly this artist was well versed in pinup imagery.

Unfortunately my Disney pinups are unsigned.  There is reference in the book “Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life” by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (two of Disney’s Nine Old Men) that references artist Fred Moore drawing pinups in studio, but looking at his work I don’t think these are his.

I have seen a signed Ollie Johnston pinup on eBay once before, so we know more than one artist was drawing these pictures.  In fact the eyes on both of my drawings remind me of the eyes on the Centaurettes in Fantasia, which were animated by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, so it is possible one of them could have done these.  This is probably wishful thinking on my part, but I’ll tell myself it’s a possibility.  I can only attribute the works at this point, but it is fun to think an important animator could have worked on them.

I find these fictional portraits to be very beautiful and well executed.  Frankly, I see most pin up drawings and paintings that way.  I also love that they represent a seedier side to the Disney animator.  Yes, Disney animation is family friendly and made for “children of all ages”, but I don’t think the goal of the artists was ever to make things perfect and squeaky clean.  I think they were artists trying to create the best possible quality of work that was possible at the time they were working.  The family friendly nature of things was more for marketing to make the money to create such elaborate and beautiful animation.  I think just like most young men of their day, they enjoyed thinking about naked women as much as the next guy.  Remember, Playboy didn’t come out until the 50’s, and these drawing seem to predate dirty magazines.  What’s an artistic lad to do but to draw naked women for himself?  It was a simpler time.  No one associates Disney with gratuitous sex, which makes these pieces of Disney history all the more interesting to me.  They are proof that these guys were human and had normal human flaws and needs just like you and me.  I guess when you stare at pictures of cutesy animals all day, you gotta do something to bring yourself back to reality.

Posted in 1940's, 1950's, 1960's, Amy, Animation, Art, Comic Characters, Disney, Ephemera, Hand Made, Historical, Humor, Movies, Weird | 1 Comment

Top o’ the Morning and Happy Collecting St. Patrick’s Day to You!

Santa Clauses and Easter Bunnies are relatively easy to find in the antiques and collectibles world. But if you want to collect and/or display vintage St. Patrick’s Day decorations, you’ll need the luck of the Irish!

Aside from postcards, cardboard cut-outs, and pinback buttons, most antique shops do not have many older St. Patty’s decorations for sale. That’s why we count ourselves very lucky that we’ve been able to amass as many pre-World War II Irish-related candy containers, figures, and toys as we have. A good portion of our collection came in one fell swoop over thirty years ago when we encountered a table at a local flea market just loaded with neat St. Patrick’s Day decorations that the dealer had acquired from one family. We scooped just about every one up and had an instant collection!

There are many symbols associated with Ireland and the Irish, and these antique St. Patrick’s Day decorations reflect that symbolism.

The shamrock, of course, is a species of clover native to Ireland, and it often appears on St. Patrick’s Day postcards. We have a little pot of artificial shamrocks in our collection, and shamrocks decorate our clay pipe, our Irish potato candy containers, and a couple of our Irishmen’s hats.

The shillelagh is a traditional Irish fighting club made of blackthorn wood. Legend has it that blackthorn hedges are home to fairy folk. We have a shillelagh candy container in our collection and a shillelagh that opens up into a circular paper Irish flag.

The national symbol of Ireland since 1542 is the celtic harp, one of the world’s oldest instruments. Celtic harps often appear on antique postcards. We also have some paper horns and a silk Irish flag that display the harp.

And then there are the green pigs. While I can’t find any specific reference to Irish pigs as symbols of good luck, I did find references stating that several European cultures including the Irish considered pigs a symbol of good fortune. Pigs are often shown with four-leaf clovers for extra good luck. Because we have four green pigs in our collection, all dating from about 1915-1930, I think it’s safe to say that they are St. Patrick’s Day decorations. The typical lucky white or pink pig is turned green to honor the Irish. We also have a couple of St. Patrick’s Day postcards that prominently feature pigs as lucky symbols.

The green pigs pictured here are mere inches in length and height.  The largest pig is a candy container with a removable head.

Our favorite antique St. Patrick’s Day decorations all come from that wonderful era just after World War I and up into the beginning of the Depression. That was a time when German and American factories were churning out the most whimsical little cardboard and composition holiday and party decorations. It’s very easy to picture our candy containers as part of a St. Patrick’s Day table setting. They might also have been handed out as prizes or favors at a classroom party. By that point in time, too, most Irish-Americans had been in the United States for several generations and were taking pride in their heritage.

Enjoy some pictures of a portion of our collection, and good luck to you as you search for your own St. Patrick’s Day collectibles.

Almost every Irishman pictured here is a candy container.  A couple have removable heads.  Three have space for candy underneath.  One is a composition figurine glued to a little chipboard box.  Only the wee green-suited guy carrying the bundle of sticks is not a candy container.  You’ll note that most of the Irishmen have red hair and a tall black top hat.  And, yes, the tall black top hat made of cardboard is a candy container.

Which came first – the postcard or the figure?  Look carefully and you’ll notice that the composition figurine is most definitely based on the depiction of the Irish lass on the postcard.  The postcard art is by well-known American artist Ellen Clapsaddle, but the postcard was printed in Germany.  Clearly, German artists turned the picture into the figure.  We owned the postcard for several years before acquiring the figure.  The figure is in near-perfect condition with a 20-cent price tag from Wanamaker’s on the bottom.

As mentioned in the article, here are our shillelagh and potato candy containers.  The circular “Irish Lobster” box is a funny gag gift.  When you open it up, there’s a little mirror inside.  Obviously, the Irish Lobster is you!


Posted in 1910's, 1920's, 1930's, Americana, Carol, Holiday, Humor, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Skateboard Smack-Ups Manny Manhole

I think I tried skateboarding about twice in my life. There’s an old adage about how if you don’t succeed, well, by golly, you just pick yourself up and try again. Not me. I couldn’t get the hang of it and knew enough about my dexterity (or lack thereof) to know that I wouldn’t be pulling off any incredible tricks in my entire life.

This was made all the more incredible by the fact that I grew up in a time where knowing how to properly skateboard inevitable made you the coolest person. Bart Simpson did it. Marty McFly did it. Wally Bear did it in an effort to warn you about the dangers of drugs. And by the time I had grown too old for cartoons and teddy bears telling me not to smoke marijuana, there was a newfound skateboarding popularity craze thanks to Tony Hawk.

It’s no surprise that toy companies tried to capitalize on the coolness of skateboards. One of my favorite toy lines of all time is Kenner’s Savage Mondo Blitzers, basically a hodgepodge of grotesque and wacky creatures who traveled in “gangs” on their skateboards. (The line was even called Skateboard Mania in Greece.) But an even stranger toy line appeared years prior, and in many ways, toys like these might justify why I never mustered the courage to really try and become good at skateboarding.

In 1986, Playtime Toys (not to be confused with Playmates Toys) decided to capitalize on the “gross out” craze that had made Garbage Pail Kids and Madballs into overnight success stories. They created a toyline called Skateboard Smack Ups. There is no accompanying storyline, so we’re not sure what the relationships are between these characters. The package simply states that these toys feature “Real SKATEBOARD action! Hi-Speed Wheels!” and that you should, of course, “Collect them All!”

This amazing collection was sold on eBay recently.

But then you take a closer look at the characters themselves. For example, Wally Wallbanger met with an unfortunate accident when he skated head first into a brick wall. Ouch! Then there’s Patty Plate Glass, who looks like she skated through a window and is still riding despite the fact that shards of glass have punctured her body and split her head open. While these injuries no doubt sent these children to the emergency room, none are quite as disturbing as Tammy Tailpipe, who not only has a tailpipe that went THROUGH her head, but she’s quickly billowing out as she gets filled with exhaust fumes. SHE SHOULD BE DEAD!

Collectors of these 80s curiosities love the designs because, let’s face it, a toy line like this probably wouldn’t get made today, although if you didn’t want your child to skateboard, I’m pretty sure he or she would be completely turned off from the hobby via these outrageous toys.

Because of their relative obscurity, obtaining a set is a difficult-but-not-impossible task. I was able to collect all 12 figures without too much trouble…assuming that those 12 figures were the only ones made. Little did I know a fortuitous set of circumstances would lead me to the rarest of all Skateboard Smack Ups toys.

Last year, my sister and I acquired a large collection of Toy Fair catalogs from the mid-to-late 1980s that were given out at the International Toy Fair. These catalogs show what companies have planned out for their various toy lines, but because these are meant to showcase what will be produced if they have the means of producing them, they often serve as a showcase for several rare unproduced toys that simply did not see any time on shelves because toy stores didn’t order enough to justify it. One of the catalogs we obtained was the Playtime Toys 1986 catalog, which showed the Skateboard Smack-Ups line.

Imagine my surprise when I saw one I didn’t recognize: a deluxe, motorized one called Manny Manhole. Based on the image, this battery-operated toy was significantly larger than the rest of the toys in the line and therefore couldn’t have been packed alongside the other 12 figures in the series. I said, “Well, I guess they never produced that one!” and went about my day.

Since I had completed my set a while ago, I hadn’t thought about what the figures were worth, but I decided to take a look at what they were going for on eBay just to see if people were still interested in them. Imagine my surprise when someone had actually listed a boxed example of Manny Manhole! By gar, it was produced!

After being listed at a rather high Buy-It-Now price for close to a month, I contacted the seller about making an offer. Clearly, he appreciated the rarity of the item as much as I did. We came to an agreement, and while this item was on the expensive side, I knew the likelihood of me finding another boxed example was relatively slim.

In person, he’s pretty interesting. The box is fairly sizable to accommodate a figure that is at least twice as large if not three times as large as every other figure in the line. He’s also the only character in the entire line to have artwork created exclusively for his character, as everyone else was thrown on a generic blister card. Because he’s significantly larger than the other characters, Playtime Toys actually added stickers to his t-shirt. The back features the classic skull-and-crossbones design, while the front simply has the phrase “Trash” on it. Awesome!

The box also gives me a clue as to how this figure could have been obtained. There is enough price tag residue for me to determine that this had to be sold at Toy Liquidators. The toy soldier on the “alkaline batteries” sticker also gives it away, but I know enough about the look of various stores’ price tags to know that this was sold by Toy Liquidators and not Kay Bee Toys. The seller said it was obtained from a comic store that had acquired a large selection of “dead stock” toys, so while this toy is unused, it must have seen at least some shelf time.

It’s very possible I could have remained patient and found this toy for a much better price at a flea market or yard sale (and given my track record, it’s entirely possible). However, while I’m more a fan of loose toys than packaged examples, I don’t mind having a packaged example of old Manny here. If I found one loose, he probably wouldn’t work, and considering the stickers on his shirt are peeling even with a plastic bag keeping him all together, I doubt a loose example would have both of the stickers intact.

In addition to educating the public on Manny Manhole, I hope that readers found this page through appropriate means. While I encourage you to Google Manny to see that nothing really comes up, unfortunately, other instances of Manny Manhole are not so PG-13 in nature.

Posted in 1980's, Action Figures, Ben, Humor, Toys, Vehicular, Weird | 1 Comment

Solitaire for Two (I’m talking about Rock Lords again)

As I detailed in 2012’s Snarlie Narlie entry, I’m a big fan of Tonka’s Rock Lords toys. It’s a collection I’ve been slowly chipping away at for several years, but in recent years, my collection has grown by leaps and bounds thanks to a few key finds. In today’s article, I’m detailing the latest remarkable addition to my Rock Lords collection.

Basically, anything that was released by Tonka after the initial two series of action figures is incredibly difficult to find. Series 3 contains a subset of figures known as “Jewel Lords.” These were still transforming stones like the previous series, but they were supposed to represent more precious rocks. Like the rest of the Jewel Lords line, the three figures were initially released in Japan. Over there, they were known as Amberman, Rubyman, and Diaman or Diamondman. Once they hit the States, they were known as Sunstone, Flamestone, and Solitaire, respectively.

Solitaire has a rather interesting history. She’s the only female character among the Good Rock Lords, and there’s no question she’s supposed to be a woman based on the physique of the figure. She’s also the only female character present in the movie Go-Bots: Battle of the Rock Lords, which was released theatrically to coincide with the release of the new toys, despite the fact that her toy did not appear until very late in the line. If any children actually saw and enjoyed the film, they probably questioned why they couldn’t get their hands on the toy when the majority of other characters from the film received figures in their likenesses. (She also had a bit of starpower associated with her, as she was voiced by Margot Kidder, who you might remember from her role Lois Lane from the Christopher Reeve Superman films and her heavily publicized manic episode in 1996.)

Here is my loose example of a Rock Lords Solitaire figure.

Lo and behold, she did get released, and while all three Jewel Lords are quite desirable, Solitaire is far more desirable a figure to be had than Flamestone or Sunstone. It took me a while to find one, but I did get one through a collection I found online. Sadly, none of my Jewel Lords have weapons, but the example of Solitaire I have is in very nice shape. I didn’t get a tremendous bargain, but I got her for what I believe to be a very fair price.

However, you might find yourself asking, “Wait a minute, Ben, didn’t you say earlier that Solitaire was released in Japan as DiamondMAN?” Yes, I did, and that’s not a mistake. For some reason, in Japan, Solitaire released as a male figure. I know action figures in general place a heavy emphasis on trying to appeal to boys, but female characters were often very important on a lot of cartoons that were designed to sell toys. And the sculpt is exactly the same, too, so the features that make Solitaire look clearly like a female Rock Lord are still present.

Diamond...man? Here's what Solitaire looked like in Japan!

However, unlike the other two Jewel Lords, Diamondman is quite a bit different than Solitaire. A different type of clear plastic is used to create the diamond effect. Solitaire has yellow eyes, Diamondman has red eyes. Diamondman also has a deep blue paintjob on his (her?) head, suggesting that the design is like a crown or helmet or something, whereas with Solitaire, it appears to be more of a feature of her character.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of both versions of Solitaire.

You can go nuts collecting certain action figure lines. I’ve found that many of the toy lines I enjoy collecting often have pieces that were released only overseas, so while flea markets, yard sales, and local toy shows are my primary means of amassing my collection, items that were never released here are much more difficult to find. For those pieces, the only thing I can do short of moving to one of these countries is buy them directly from other collectors and pay full retail price (which I justify since it’s less than the cost of a plane ticket and a hotel room). In other words, I never expected to own Diamondman, or at least get one at an affordable price. While one foreign exclusive piece in particular (the mighty Fossilsaurus) is on my most wanted toys list and has been for years, here I am taking pictures of the two figures side-by-side for your viewing pleasure. How did this happen?

Three days before Christmas, my sister and her boyfriend ventured to one of the local flea markets here in New Jersey. We were about to do a fairly normal person holiday activity together once they got home, but when they arrived, I got an excited call from downstairs saying, “Come take a look at what we found!” And there was Diamondman, staring at me. My sister knew well enough that she had found one of the elusive Jewel Lords, but she didn’t know she had found the Japanese exclusive variations. The figure was in a bag mixed in with a bunch of odds and ends that clearly came from Japan. It was not being sold by a toy dealer but rather a video game dealer who had imported a few games. Given the low, low price of ten bucks for the entire bag, my guess is that they were much more well-versed on the video game market than the toy market.

So yes, I have both versions of Solitaire, and the much more difficult to obtain version ended up being found for much less money than I would have expected. The lesson? Educate your siblings AND don’t underestimate your local flea markets, even in the bitter cold and right before Christmas!

Posted in 1980's, Action Figures, Ben, Toys | Leave a comment

Promo Cars – Little Cars Used to Sell Big Cars

Among my favorites is this green 1954 Buick Skylark. I had a blue one when I was a kid.

In 2012, I wrote about the rediscovery of my Miller-Ironson lumber truck, a prized possession of my childhood that I found in my mother’s attic and now proudly resides in our home.

That journey back to my youth also led me reflect upon some of the other little vehicles of my youthful motorhead past.  Among them were Dinky Toys, Matchbox cars, and big fix-it type cars made by Ideal.  But the toy cars that I liked the best as a kid were the realistic little plastic gems usually done in 1/25 scale known today as “promo” cars.  “Promo” or “Promotional” cars got their name from  car dealers giving them away as an incentive to get traffic through the  doors to hopefully “promote” sales for the big cars they represented.

1958 Edsel with dealer handout

Back when I was a kid in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, we didn’t call them promo cars and we didn’t get them at dealerships.  We called them scale model cars and they were available in toy stores and hobby shops for $1.50 to $2.00 each.  The difference between the toy store versions and the dealer versions were that the toy store ones had friction motors to help them scoot across the floor and the dealer versions did not.  Manufactured by companies such as A.M.T. , JoHann, PMC and even Hubley, these miniature cars were made with the permission of the auto makers themselves who also rendered the assistance necessary to produce these model cars in exact detail.  Unfortunately, once in the hands of a child, these somewhat fragile objects that straddled being both a toy and a model often didn’t survive too long.  To make matters worse, the plastic bodies on these little cars had a tendency to warp over time, especially in the late 1950’s.  Non-warping bodies finally came out in 1962, but that doesn’t help anyone looking for a ’57 Chevy without a drooping back end or a ’57 Ford that isn’t just messed up all over the place.


1958 Lincoln Continental showing typical warping even though it shows little or no play wear.

A close up of the warping.

Nevertheless, nice, clean and hopefully minimally warped examples are very popular with collectors today. Rare examples can cost in the hundreds and, in a few cases, thousands of dollars.  Most examples in good condition today, however, can usually be found in the $50 to $100 range.  As always, original boxes add value and are a good indication that the car had little or no play to affect its condition.


1951 Chevys in different body styles by PMC. Chevy promos were produced in just about every body style from 1951 through 1954.

My favorite era for these cars is the 1950’s, which also happens to be my favorite era of big cars as well.  I am fortunate in that I still have a few of the ones I received as a kid, my favorite being my yellow and white Metropolitan made in 1960 by Hubley.  I received it in June of that year as a present from my father for getting promoted from third to fourth grade.


My favorite promo car is this Metropolitan which I received new in 1960.

I remember going to my favorite toy store, which was Glenn Toys, located on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey.  Among the Steiff animals, Tonka trucks, toy boats and all sorts of other great stuff, there was always a good assortment of scale model cars.  You would enter the store and hang an immediate left and keep going to the wall.   There they were, all lined up bright and new like a miniature show room.  In this little car showroom, however, all the cars from a Ford Falcon to a Cadillac Fleetwood cost the same – two bucks!


1960 Ford F-100 Pickup, another survivor from my childhood!

Plastic-bodied scale model cars were first produced in 1949 and are still being made today.  Among the earliest examples are a 1949 Ford and Plymouth both made by AMT.  A very rare 1949 Oldsmobile was produced by a company called Cruver.  Before plastic, some metal promos were made by such companies as Master Caster and Banthrico, and continued into the 1950’s overlapping production of the plastic bodied models as well.


1949 Ford and Plymouth manufactured by AMT. Each has a wind-up motor.



Metal bodied 1/20th scale Nash from 1949 or 1950 along with dealer award plaque.

Most of the manufacturers eventually started producing model kits, AMT being the first in 1958, using the same body and interior and chrome molds as with the promos.  These kits became very popular with boys of my generation and could be “customized” by adding all kinds of accessories such as fender skirts, spotlights and flame decals. Unfortunately, if a kid put them together, they usually suffered from globby paint, glue marks  and sloppy construction!


1952 and 1954 Pontiac dealer promos. No friction motors!

New models came out each model year and the previous year’s models were discontinued as with real cars.  It’s usually pretty easy, therefore, to date a promo car.  There are, however, some reissues in later years to add some confusion, but originals are usually easy to spot over their later counterparts.  The reissues often have plastic screws holding the body to the chassis and the bodies do not warp.


1965 Pontiac GTO dealer promo with original box.

The nice thing about these little cars is that they don’t depreciate and you seldom get a lemon.  You don’t even have to change the oil!

1954 Nash with original box (dealer promo)

1957 Plymouth Taxi by Jo-Hann. Whoever heard of a two door taxi?

Posted in 1950's, 1960's, Jim, Miniatures, Toys, Vehicular | 1 Comment

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Scratch (A “Tail” in Friendship)

Having cool friends makes me want to yell “COWABUNGA!” at the top of my lungs.

I was born in 1983, so I was about six years old when the Ninja Turtles phenomenon had really swept the nation. They were inescapable by 1989. Knowing the names of the four turtles was as essential as knowing the alphabet by the time I hit kindergarten.

There have always been hard core Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans, but I think that fandom has become much more mainstream in recent years, and a lot more collectors are hunting for key pieces. Certain vehicles and playsets in mint condition are commanding prices that I couldn’t have dreamed of years ago, regularly reaching hundreds of dollars. I think for many years, collectors were turned off because there’s just so much TMNT merchandise to collect. It was a very successful franchise and while not as daunting to collect as something like Star Wars, it’s certainly up there in terms of popularity and the breadth of items to collect.

I was very heavily into Ninja Turtles in 1989 and 1990, but by 1991, they were replaced by Toy Biz’s X-Men figures in my house. Like any phenomenon that gets as popular as Ninja Turtles, there are a few key years where EVERYONE is into them, and then they move onto other things. But my friend Brian was different. He was completely loyal to Ninja Turtles well into their popularity and stuck with them long after most of my friends had given up on them.

Brian and I remain friends all these years later, and since we bonded early on by our shared love of toys like Battle Beasts and checking out flea markets, we often bring up those subjects in conversation all these years later. During one of these conversations a few years ago, Brian made the kind of claim I hear a lot as an action figure collector: “I had EVERY Ninja Turtle figure.”

Not to brag, but I consider myself a pretty well-versed expert on the topic of action figures, so whenever someone claims they had EVERYTHING in a particular line, I immediately become suspicious. There are several incredibly rare Ninja Turtles figures that were released after most kids collected them, and even if a kid was still actively adding Ninja Turtles to his collection as late as 1994 or 1995, it’s entirely possible that they might have missed one of these rare figures.

Knowing that I was suspicious, he said, “What’s the rarest figure?” And without hesitation, I said Scratch. (I know some people will certainly debate this, but he is certainly among the top five rarest figures and is at the very top of most collectors’ want lists.)

Released in 1993, Scratch was one of a handful original characters released very, very late in the Ninja Turtles line. By 1994, the line became mostly variations of the main characters, both heroes and villains, so Scratch was one of the last completely new action figures to be released. He is literally a “cat burglar,” a mutant cat in a black-and-white jailbird outfit. While several other characters who were in the same assortment as Scratch are also very, very difficult to find, Scratch appears to be the absolute most difficult figure to find from this particular assortment.

When I described to Brian what the character looked like, he said, “Oh, I have that.” He probably knew that wasn’t good enough for me. After all, I had been led onto claims like fellow classmates owning Rocket Firing Boba Fett figures before. But Brian did have a particular advantage when it came to toys growing up: his mom worked at K-Mart, so whenever new Ninja Turtles figures were put on the shelves, his mom got first dibs. So it was entirely possible that with a connection like this, he could have gotten his hands on Scratch as a kid.

During one of his trips back home, he had me go down with him to his parents’ basement to look for his boxes of Ninja Turtles toys. We started rooting through, and sure enough, he held up a figure and said, “Is THIS the figure you were talking about?”

That moment was the first time I had ever held an honest-to-goodness example of Scratch. Brian wasn’t lying. His mom probably picked up the only Scratch figure that ever hit the shelves of our local K-Mart. While Brian clearly loved his toys, he was also about 11 or 12 years old by the time Scratch came out, so he was in much better shape than the rest of his childhood collection.

Seeing my excitement, he let me have the figure. Pretty cool, right? Still, I don’t consider myself the owner of the Scratch that I display on one of my toy shelves. Instead, I consider myself more of a caretaker. If I’m ever tempted to sell it, Brian gets the money. I mean, I HIGHLY doubt I would get rid of such a rare figure, and I’m honored that it’s getting proper display instead of sitting neglected in a basement. And it’s very cool that I can trace the lineage of the toy back to the original owner.

The moral of the story is that you should keep in touch with your childhood friends and pick their brains about their various toy memories. You might be surprised what you’ll find! Just don’t resort to Scratch-like antics and wind up in jail trying to get your grubby paws on some rare items!


Posted in 1990's, Action Figures, Animation, Ben, Comic Characters, Toys | 1 Comment

My Love Affair With LIFE (Magazine)

This tenth anniversary issue of Life magazine shows the first issue with the famous Margaret Bourke White cover.

I’m sure my love affair with Life began when I was about ten years old. Unlike just about every middle class family in America in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, my family never had a subscription to Life magazine. However, my aunts and uncles did, and they would pass along their outdated copies to us when we came to visit. Indeed, I really looked forward to riding home with several stacks of magazines piled up around me in the back of the car. Life, McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, and National Geographic were eagerly read by me even when I was still in elementary school. Sometimes I would cut the magazines up and put photos and articles in my scrap book. When I was about 13 or 14, I started making a gigantic collage of famous people’s faces, and most of the clippings came from Life.

Now you know what a weird kid I was and how my addiction to printed matter, especially magazines, began.

Early on, when Jim and I first started going to flea markets and into antique shops over forty years ago, I would be drawn to any old magazines that I saw, and if they were affordable (i.e. cheap), I would usually buy them. With thousands upon thousands of each copy sold during its heyday, old Life magazines were not hard to find. I could usually pick up nice examples from the 1940’s and 50’s, my favorite era because the magazines were bulging with fabulous advertisements and interesting articles, for fifty cents or a dollar. Once, about thirty years ago, I came upon a table at a flea market piled high with the old Life’s for a quarter each, and I bought a couple dozen.

However, that was nothing compared to what happened about ten years ago. Our county library holds a book sale a few times a year. When I first discovered this, I went crazy and was coming home with two or three boxes full of printed matter after each sale. This is not a good thing when we already have many, many boxes full of books and magazines in the basement. On this particular occasion, I was trying to behave by avoiding the sale, but Ben ended up checking it out. At lunchtime, he reported that they had “tons” of vintage Life magazines for ten cents apiece. Ten cents! Heck, that was the original cover price in the 1930’s and 40’s! The sale closed at 3 pm, so I hopped in the car and headed to the library. My willpower had crumbled.

Ben was right. Almost as soon as I walked in, I saw several piles of Life from the 1940’s and 50’s. Why they hadn’t all sold at that ridiculously low price was beyond my comprehension. Within minutes, my stack was an impressive size – and I’d only spent about $2.00. Then one of the volunteers at the book sale said the fateful words, “We have more magazines in the back if you’re interested.” Of course, I was. So I accompanied her to a large employee office/workroom, and there were about three or four eight-foot long tables just piled with Life magazines. I was stunned. It turned out that it was the entire archive that the library owned, and they had decided to get rid of it. There literally were hundreds of Life magazines from about 1937 to 1999. Obviously, it was not a complete collection. Certain issues had probably been lifted forty or fifty years ago. Others had probably been sold that morning at the book sale. Still and all, there were many, many issues from just about every year of publication.

Again, I dove in and started making a hand-selected pile, probably another $2.00’s worth. Then I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth. “Would you be willing to sell all of them to me for one price?” I asked, knowing full well that if I bought them, Jim was surely going to kill me. In my mind, I thought that any price of $50 or less would be an absolute steal that I couldn’t turn down. Any figure above $50 would have caused me to hesitate and perhaps regain my sanity. Naturally, the woman said, “You can have them all for $50.”

And that’s how I came into possession of our county library’s Life magazine archive.

There was no way I could fit them all into the car on one trip. I took several boxes with me, and over the course of the next month or two, I would make a trip every week or so and pick up another five or ten boxes. Into the basement they went, and in the basement most of them still are.

Quite honestly, I have sold a few. I’ve certainly gotten my money back and then some. I’ve even given a few away as gifts. Life magazines are the perfect birthday or anniversary gift. It’s always fun to see what products were being advertised, what big stories were in the news, what the fashions looked like and what famous person might have been interviewed.

Whenever I go through the “archive” and try to choose a few magazines to get rid of, here’s what happens: First, I’ll see a great cover photo and be attracted to it.

Then I’ll see some ads that are colorful, nostalgic, or fun.

Then, invariably, there’s an interesting article to skim or scan or even read in depth. I swear to you that it’s a rare Life magazine that doesn’t have at least three or four different things going for it. And sometimes that’s what makes it difficult for me to part with some of them. They are like little weekly time capsules. Sometimes they capture an era with which I’m familiar – like the 1960’s or 70’s. More often, though, they bespeak a time that I either never lived through or was too young to remember.

It doesn’t matter. I love Life, and that’s that. I have promised that I will begin parting with them more seriously, and I will keep my promise. But will I always have some Life magazines in my possession? Yes, without a doubt.

Posted in 1930's, 1940's, 1950's, 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, 1990's, Advertising, Americana, Carol, Ephemera | Leave a comment